Understanding the How and Why of Online Content Curation

According to Rohit Bhargava, content curation describes the act of finding, grouping, organizing or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue.

On Pinterest (Fig.1), arguably the most popular picture curation website, users can collect and categorize images from other websites by pinning them onto so-called “pinboards”. Users can also repin or like images imported by other users. Last.fm has supported pinterest-like curation actions for over 7 years. It allows users to tag (similar to pinning onto a pinboard) or love (similar to like) music they listened.

content-curation-fig1

Fig. 1: Curation activities in Pinterest

In this study, we seek to have a first look and understand the how and why of content curation. Based on Pinterest and Last.fm, our analyses employ both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The quantitative study is based on a dataset that includes one-month of curation activities and social graphs on both websites. Our qualitative user study is based on responses from nearly 300 users.

Our main results are as follows:

Why people curate

1. Curation highlights new kinds of content

Curation-based ranking is quite different from traditional popularity and search ranking (Fig. 2). For example, websites that get a lot of repins or likes in Pinterest are not highly ranked by Alexa traffic ranking or Google PageRank. This is consistent with Clay Shirky’s theory that “curation comes up when search stops working”.

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Fig. 2: Correlation coefficients between curated-based ranking and traditional popularity ranking

2. Different views on social connectivity

Another aspect of Clay Shirky’s theory is that the job of curation is to synchronise a community. An evidence for this has been found in our research, which shows that most of curation actions focus on few items. However, our user studies show that most users curate for personal reasons rather than for social good. For example, a popular view is that:

I find the social aspect more useful and interesting with people I know, rather than developing new interactions based on music taste.

How people curate

To understand different content curation actions in different websites, we distinguish them into two classes:

  • Structured curation: categorizing items along with other similar items (e.g., tag on Last.fm or repin on Pinterest).
  • Unstructured curation: highlighting or collecting items without categorizing (e.g., like on Pinterest or love on Last.fm).

Based on this classification, several observations can be made:

  1. Some users prefer structured, others unstructured.
  2. For most items, unstructured curation accumulates faster than structured actions.
  3. However, popular items see more structured actions than unstructured ones (Fig. 3). i.e., even the top liked items have more repins than likes on Pinterest, and similarly top loved items on Last.fm has more tags than loves.
  4. Most curation happened on first listen (on last.fm).
content-curation-fig3

Fig. 3: Top items get more unstructured curation than structured curation. Magenta line indicates R = 0.5, which means unstructured curation equals to structured curation. If R < 0.5, the number of unstructured curation is large than structured curation. Observe that even the top loved or likes tracks have R < 0.5.

What adds social value

Our analysis on this question shows that users who are consistent in curating items and have a diversity of interests get more followers (Fig. 4). This agrees with Rohit Bhargava’s theory that the most important part of a content curator’s job is to continually identify new content for their audience. An interesting thing that can be observed in Fig 4a is that too short intervals between curating in Pinterest could detract followers. We conjecture that such behavior may be seen as spam.

content-curation-fig4

Fig. 4: Consistent updates and diversity of interests would attract more followers

For more, see our full paper, Sharing the Loves: Understanding the How and Why of Online Content Curation.

Changtao Zhong, King’s College London
Sunil Shah, Last.fm
Karthik Sundaravadivelan, King’s College London
Nishanth Sastry, King’s College London

3 thoughts on “Understanding the How and Why of Online Content Curation

  1. Pingback: Sharing the Loves: Understanding the How and Why of Online Content Curation | Changtao Zhong

  2. Interesting topic !
    I was wondering if this approach can be applied to other platforms, possible platforms are Twitter and Facebook. I expect that also for Twitter, there is a “best number of categories” and a ” best interval for twitting”.

    • HI Disheng,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, I think this experiment can be done in Twitter. A best number of ‘hashtag’ and a best interval for twitting should be existing. In addition, ‘list’ in twitter is regarded as a curation function as well. Comparing it to Pinterest is a future work of us.

      As for the Facebook, I don’t think data is enough for us to do this, although share, reshare and like could be considered as curation actions as well.

      Best,
      Changtao

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